‘The Addams Family’ Invites You to Sing Along and Chuckle at Ghoulish Antics
They’re still creepy and kooky but find themselves in a conventional cartoon this time around, it’s “The Addams Family.” Snap your fingers twice now. The idea of using animation for pop culture’s ultimate spooky family does make perfect sense, and there are moments of genuine charm visually and comically in this new take. Having started as a comic strip before becoming a TV sitcom in the ’60s, before the ’90s movies that gave the Addams their definitive modern look, this is one of those franchises beloved for its oddness. This version combines that oddness with the more conventional style of a typical feel-good animated feature.
We open on the very gothic wedding of Gomez Addams (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron). Driving with Thing, that famous roaming hand, the couple find the perfect place to make their home, namely a menacing mansion atop a mountain surrounded by thunder and lightning. The years pass and the two build an abode with a lion for a pet and the Frankenstein-like Lurch (Conrad Vernon) as butler. They also have two kids, the bomb-making Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) and eternally brooding Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz). Also living with them is bald and kooky Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll). All seems terrifyingly ok at the Addams home until they decide to venture down into the town of Assimilation, a new housing development project run by blonde, all American TV personality Margaux Needler (Allison Janney). As far as Needler is concerned the Addams don’t belong in her bright, perfect vision and must be kicked out at all costs. Meanwhile the Addams is preoccupied with Pugsley preparing for an intricate sword ritual which the rest of the family will attend since it makes his passage into manhood.
It is the first two acts of “The Addams Family” that work best, with genuine humor and the spirit of the original show and movies mixed together. Directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon have long experience in typical American digital animation. You’d be surprised to discover they also helmed the infamous 2016 raunch fest “Sausage Party.” This experience both elevates and hampers the movie. Visually it’s a treat and the characters are designed now in closer fashion to the original Charles Addams comics. The Addams mansion is constantly draped in convincing gloominess and grey shadows. A sense of an eternally cloudy day is beautifully rendered by the look of this film. When the movie doesn’t take on the typical clichés of animated movies it has its own, oddball charm. Wednesday has nooses for braids, Gomez and Morticia are excited to have run over someone while driving (this is how they meet Lurch), and loving farewells take on the tone of, “I won’t forget you, but I’ll try.” Lurch steals attention with his growling one-liners and his sudden ability to croon some pop while playing the family piano.
Instead of just basking in the strangeness and telling a more wicked sort of tale, “The Addams Family” then becomes the equivalent of any other animated message movie aimed primarily at elementary schoolers. Like last year’s “The Grinch” it’s more of a watered-down movie than a bad one. The Addams’s have always been a delight because in their comfortable misery and ghoulishness they carry on, oblivious to the regular world around them. Here Wednesday decides to rebel by going to the same middle school as the normal kids of Assimilation, which causes a crisis of doubt in Morticia in seeing her child become distant and, gasp, putting on pink accessories. Wednesday makes friends with Parker (Elsie Fisher), the daughter of Needler who is repressed by her mother’s insistence on colorful perfection. Inspired by Wednesday she goes gothic, hilariously going on social media and saying, “this is my truth.” There are some genuinely funny gags here, as when Wednesday brings to life dead frogs during an anatomy class in a tribute to “Frankenstein.” When Parker wonders why she doesn’t have a cell phone Wednesday, in her deadpan way, wonders why Parker doesn’t have a crossbow (which she uses to continuously shoot Fester).
Also appreciated is how the movie deals with the issue of discrimination. Here the Addams’s become a symbol for those who stand out in a crowd. Some of the satire gets way too on the nose, like Needler humming “Glory Glory Hallelujah” while walking into a room where she can monitor the entire town. And of course there’s the title of the place, Assimilation, which can allude to everything from gentrification to immigration. But at least younger audience members will be introduced to such debates. When the film tries to be more about family issues the best angle is Pugsley’s manhood ritual which involves archaic sword dancing, it’s the only way an Addam grows their mustache and proves they are ready to defend the family. When all the relatives arrive at Assimilation it’s all visual fun with uncles riding giant spiders and others missing limbs.
In the third act the movie is at its weakest, turning into another cartoon action fest where everything is settled with bombs and standoffs. Still, it’s never a boring movie. The cast make it work better because everyone seems to be having fun, including Bette Midler as the overly witchy Grandma. Snoop Dogg is unrecognizable as It, the ultra-shaggy cousin who arrives with the other freaks of the Addams clan. Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron sound the more relaxed in their voice roles as the proper, Latin Gomez and the tall, ominously refined Morticia.
“The Addams Family” is not a great animated film but it has its charms. There’s even a nice snap-along song number at the end. If the weekend box office pickings already offer either mad clowns or astronauts lost in space, here’s something dark in the way an innocent Halloween party is dark. The first two acts are the best, take out the third and any young companion might get laughs, creeps and some meaning out of it.
“The Addams Family” opens Oct. 11 in theaters nationwide.